Periodontal disease is also called gum disease. It is a very common disease, with very different levels of severity. It can affect children, but is usually more common in adults.
What is gingivitis?
The mildest form of gum disease is called gingivitis. This means inflammation of the gingiva. Many people have inflamed gums. In some cases they can bleed or look swollen, but most people are unaware of the problem. Frequently, gums are inflamed in-between the teeth because flossing is not done often enough or properly. In fact, flossing is a key to healing and preventing gingivitis.
What is periodontal disease?
Sometimes inflammation in the gingiva causes permanent damage to the gums and bone around the teeth. This is called periodontal disease. The gums are usually more swollen and can bleed easily. When the bone and gums around the tooth are this inflamed, they shrink away from the tooth. This causes receeding gums and “pocketing” or swelling of the gums. In mild cases, cleaning the teeth and roots can heal the disease. In severe cases, gum surgery may be required. In the worst cases, only removal of the tooth will heal the problem.
What causes gum disease?
Several factors have to come together to produce gum disease. First, bacteria live on your teeth, gums, and below your gum line. Some of these bacteria make toxins that irritate the cells in your gingiva. Sometimes your immune system fights these bacteria a little too aggressively, damaging your body instead. Some people have a higher susceptibility to this immune system overload. Others just have a lot of the bad bacteria, and not a lot of good bacteria.
What is my risk?
There are things that can affect your body’s ability to withstand this battle. For example, smoking can cause poor blood flow in your gums. We know that smoking is a top risk for gum disease. Other things like a poor diet and lack of exercise could also affect your gums. Diabetes or pregnancy can cause problems with your body’s immune system and contribute to periodontal disease. There are a few rare genetic diseases that can cause periodontal disease as well.
What can be done?
Although some factors are out of your control, there are things that you can do to heal and prevent gum disease. First, you can control the growth of the bad bacteria on your teeth. Professional dental cleanings which thoroughly clean the teeth and roots are the start. A good home care routine as recommended by your dentist or hygienist will help to keep the bacteria down. Reducing the bacteria as well as working to improve your health – stopping smoking or controlling your diabetes – will help you heal and prevent gum disease.
What are the problems with periodontal disease?
We have known for a while that periodontal disease causes unsightly gums, bleeding, swelling, and bad breath. It can lead to infections, pain, loose teeth, and even tooth loss.
More recently we have discovered that periodontal disease is an infection that affects the whole body. Severe periodontal disease has been linked to heart disease, strokes, and lung disease. It can make it more difficult to control diabetes. It can also lead to preterm birth and low birth weight infants when it affects pregnant women.
This photo shows an example of gingivitis